Sydney Phillips, a 12-year-old from Kenilworth, New Jersey, is a keen basketballer. While in the sixth grade she joined the girls’ team at her school, St. Theresa’s, where she was soon picked as an all-star player.
Now, however, she has been expelled – because she wanted to play on the boys’ team.
Sydney asked if she could join the boys’ squad in October 2016, after St. Theresa’s cancelled the girls’ team due to a “lack of interest”. Officials at the Catholic school refused her request, even though the Archdiocese of Newark has no specific rule prohibiting mixed-gender basketball training.
In response, Sydney’s father, Scott Phillips, filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against St. Theresa’s and the Archdiocese of Newark. This was rejected by a judge in January – and now, both Sydney and her younger sister Caitlin have been kicked out of school.
Scott Phillips received the news that his daughters had been expelled on Wednesday night as he watched Sydney play basketball with the New York Liberty. The prominent women’s basketball team, the female counterpart to the New York Knicks, had invited the seventh-grader to come and train with them after hearing about her battle to play at school.
Phillips said that his attorney had emailed him a letter as he and his daughters walked onto NYL’s training court, “basically stating that starting tomorrow the girls were not welcome back at St Theresa’s School”.
He said that he didn’t know how he was going to break the news to his daughters that they had been expelled, when they were so happy to be playing with the NYL.
“I don’t want to ruin this moment,” he said. “This is a great time for them.”
The lawsuit filed against the school and the archdiocese stated that honour roll student Sydney – who had attended St. Theresa’s since pre-school – was also the student council treasurer and an altar server. Her mother had also been the coach for the girls’ basketball team before it was cancelled.
Scott Phillips elaborated on the family’s ties to the school and archdiocese in a conversation with NJ.com. “I am so disappointed with St Theresa’s,” he said. “I’ve been a lifelong parishioner. I was baptised there, I did my communion there, I was married there. My children did their communions there; my parents are buried in that church.
“And this is what they do after all these years, because we want our daughter to play on a boys’ basketball team.
“It’s disgraceful, and they should be ashamed of themselves.”
Sydney, who had tried out and made a spot on an Amateur Athletic Union basketball team, told ABC7 that she “was like, really bummed when I found out I couldn’t play with the boys, because I’m better than them”.
Legendary New York Liberty player Teresa Weatherspoon said she couldn’t understand why the school would take such a step to prevent a girl playing basketball.
“We are obligated to teach our kids,” she said. “We’re obligated to send them to another level, we’re obligated to show them who they can be.”
A spokesman for the Newark Archdiocese said that St. Theresa’s parent-student handbook explicitly states that parents who involve the school in legal matters “will be requested to remove their children immediately from the school”, and that the expulsion of his daughters “should not have come as a surprise” to Scott Phillips.
Images: YouTube/NJ.com, Getty